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The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) has announced operational changes, including temporary cancellation of visitations and screenings, in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It adds that the new, temporary restrictions are intended to help protect inmates and staff, including the Buena Vista complex, which houses more than 1,200 inmates.

An aerial view of the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. (courtesy of CODOC

“We take our responsibility to protect staff, inmates, and parolees very seriously, and are taking actions based on our desire to prevent them from being in harm’s way as a result of COVID-19,” said CDOC Executive Director Dean Williams. “Anytime we make these types of changes to operations, we are acutely aware of the impact it has on those who work and live in our facilities as well as their loved ones, and we do our best to lessen the impact as much as possible,” Williams added.

Effective immediately the DOC will  take these actions:

  • Suspend all visiting in our facilities. DOC understands that this will greatly impact the inmate population, but have made the difficult decision that the risk of a visitor potentially bringing COVID-19 into a facility is something that must be prevented to the extent possible.
  • CDOC is currently looking at options for conducting video visits and expanding the amount of phone time allowed in order to assist offenders in staying connected to those they care about. Legal visits will still occur but will be non-contact visits.
  • Suspend all volunteer services at the facilities. CDOC will be looking at other recreation options to fill in gaps created by this temporary loss of volunteers.
  • All public tours and family reunification events will be postponed.
  • All staff will be limiting any inter-facility travel unless absolutely necessary, and will be conducting inter-facility meetings via phone or web conference whenever possible.
  • Parolees who are sick, immune compromised, over 60, and/or considered to be at higher risk of infection (people who have traveled to areas where community transmission is occurring or had direct close contact with a presumptive positive case of COVID-19) will not be required to come into the parole office, but will still be required to maintain contact with their parole officer. Those parolees will be directly contacted by their parole officer. If a parolee is ill, they should immediately notify their parole officer via phone/CWISE or email and stay home until they contact their healthcare provider. This is a changing situation and we may update these instructions as it develops, a  press release said.
  • CDOC is currently screening all incoming inmates for COVID-19 and will be implementing formalized screening practices for inmates already in our custody who may be entering or leaving our facilities for events like medical appointments, court, etc. We will also assess any inmates in our custody who may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. We will also be screening staff and vendors.

The CDOC says it will review these decisions regularly over the next 30 days.

In response to other inquiries, the department said while inmates have access to soap and water for hand washing, hand sanitizer, which contains alcohol, is not currently provided. Options are being explored to provide hand sanitizer in a controlled manner to avoid abuse.

Like many institutions, the DOC has regular cleaning schedules for facilities, but says that cleaning efforts have been increased to help with disease prevention. Inmates at most custody levels and all staff members have access to cleaning products to clean and disinfect the facilities and for inmates to clean their cells.

Public Information Officer Annie Skinner told Ark Valley Voice there are about 1,215 inmates at the BV facility currently.

Officials said CDOC Health Services Administrators will be conducting roll call trainings for staff inside their facilities. Information sheets about the virus provided by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are being distributed so offenders and staff can access the information. In addition, officials are communicating directly with staff and implementing further communication with the inmate population as well.

“We have to keep everybody safe,” Skinner said. “Our biggest thing right now is going from facility to facility, that’s our plan.”